Though he never realized his basketball potential with the Illini, Ron Dunlap wisely used his education to learn a lesson from what is considered to be one of the darkest periods in Illinois history.
The 6-foot-8 junior center from Chicago’s Farragut High School appeared to be blossoming into an outstanding player in December 1967.
After five games, coach Harry Combes’ Illini had compiled a 4-1 record, including a 98-97 overtime victory against powerful Kentucky in Lexington. Dunlap was averaging 15 points and 12 rebounds per game, but his dream season almost instantly turned into a nightmare.
What would infamously become known as the “slush fund scandal” exposed that seven Illini athletes, including Dunlap, had been provided with small monthly stipends to assist them in school. At the time, the just-turned-21-year-old Dunlap was married and was the father of a daughter.
Dunlap later told The News-Gazette’s Loren Tate, “It hadn’t really occurred to me that I was doing anything wrong. When you’re young, you respect your elders.” Ultimately, a trio of Illini coaches — Combes, assistant basketball coach Howie Braun and head football coach Pete Elliott — resigned under pressure, and the athletes lost their remaining eligibility to play in the Big Ten.
Several college coaches called upon Dunlap, but he decided to instead continue his scholarship and ready himself for his future. He graduated in 1968 from the U of I with a teaching degree.
Dunlap was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in the second round of the 1968 NBA draft. He also played briefly for the Phoenix Suns and the New York Nets, the latter in the ABA, with the Rockford Royals and with Israel in the European leagues.
After his brief basketball career, Dunlap spent several years teaching in his native Chicago. To supplement his family’s income, he began a long career as an umpire in Chicago’s famed 16-inch softball leagues, eventually being inducted into that association’s Hall of Fame.
Dunlap became principal of Lincoln Elementary School in Appleton, Wis., in 1990. In 2011, he left his principal’s position and became minority services coordinator for the Appleton Area School District. Ron and his wife, Yvette, have two children and one grandson. Sunday, he celebrates his 66th birthday.
Sunday: Brannon “Boo” Champagne, baseball (48)
Monday: Richard Keene, basketball (39)
Tuesday: Andy Dixon, equipment manager (59)
Wednesday: Ron Turner, football coach (59)
Thursday: Shirley Bodden, track & field (45)
Friday: Brian Vanosky, football (39)
Saturday: Antwoine Patton, football (40)
By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore and assistant athletic director at Miami (Ohio)
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